Artist: Fiona Apple
Album: Tidal (1996)
Chances are, if you’re feeling miserable, reclusive, or in some way scathed, Fiona Apple will only make it worse. Noted for her angst-ridden, misfit presence in 90s female alternative rock, the icy-eyed singer has played the stone-hearted, ‘woman-scorned’ role almost as long as Alanis Morisette and twice as smoothly.
While Apple’s breakout solo album Tidal–debuting just a year after the gritty Jagged Little Pill (1995)–contained the same acidic discontent as its competitor’s, what made it strikingly different was the euphony that could be filtered from it. Whether its the EP’s piano-slamming singles (“Criminal”, “Shadowboxer”) or its light, percussion-dusted tracks (“The First Taste”), tasteful rhythm and melody can be consistently felt—amidst Apple’s wrath or not.
“Shadowboxer” tops all in the the department of troublingly impassioned, piano-licked roars of loathing. Dedicated to a particularly shady, male object of affection—or as she names in stinging recall, “once my flame and twice my burn”—the track isn’t just special for its diss factor. It’s a vulnerable and hooking–and in just 5 minutes, 24 seconds–covers just about all the sanity-splintering stages of relationship dysfunction, from temporary fulfillment, (“oh you creep up like the clouds, and you set my soul at ease”) to searing realization (“then you let your love abound, and you bring me to my knees”).
And in her effort to rationalize, there’s Apple’s frail stoicism; “I just wanna say, just in case I don’t come through…I was on to every play, I just wanted you…”.
As Fiona’s unrepentant malice seeps through every crack of her booming, sonorous vocals, it’s hard not to feel it, vicariously.